Q&A with stars of 'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical'
By Shoshana Medney
I went in-depth with three of the stars from The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. You'll find unique stories from my 10 minute conversations with Chris McCarrell (Percy Jackson), Kristin Stokes (Annabeth Chase) and Jorrel Javier Grover Underwood and Mr. D (Dionysus).
Chris McCarrell (Percy Jackson)
Shoshana: What’s it like to play the titular character in The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson musical?
Chris: It’s pretty awesome. He’s the exact type of superhero, in his own right, that I want to be playing. I feel really lucky in the way that what makes him really different than most titular characters is the type of difference I want to be putting out into the world as positive concepts.
Shoshana: Awesome. From your original run a few years ago Off-Broadway to coming back to New York on this tour, what are some of the differences or similarities fans can expect?
Chris: The heart of the show is exactly the same. They knew that what worked in our New York run was really the secret sauce that was going to make this show go to the next level. So, a lot of the changes were how to make this show fill a huge theatre, where we opened at the huge Oriental Theatre [now the James M. Nederlander Theatre] in Chicago, this humongous theatre. We really amped up. We had have huge speaker towers on either side of the stage to blast music and we amped up all the monsters.
We had this really awesome puppet company in New York and so all the monsters are hyper-realistic. They come out huge, like our Minotaur is humongous. They really beefed up lighting to give it that rock concert feel at times when the show really gets going, so it was really about: how do we keep that small heart of the show alive and the fun and creativity of the New York production, but really dial up the volume that could fill up these huge houses we’re seeing on the road.
Shoshana: That’s perfect, so it really won’t be like the ‘Littlest Minotaur’ anymore.
Chris: Exactly. [laughing] Yeah, but it still has that imaginative... we really invite the audience to come play along with us, even in the larger setting. rather than creating every detail.
Shoshana: It looks like you’ve been having a lot of fun interacting with your castmates and fans. How has interacting with the fans, whether it’s been through social media or in person where you’ve been touring, how
has that relationship been?
Chris: I think it’s a huge reason a majority of us decided to tour because we’ve heard so many stories of people wanting to see this musical, needing to see this musical, ‘cause the story was really resonating with them, but they couldn’t fly to New York and buy a New York ticket price. By us taking the show out to them, it will make it a lot easier for the young people to be able to see this show.
To hear stories of moms and daughters driving hours to see their local major city to see this show, that’s really what keeps us going. That’s what motivated a lot of the cast to come out and leave their homes behind and really bring this show on the road.
I love hearing stories about that because I think we forget sometimes what a huge ask it is of a New York production to have an entire country fly to it, you know what I mean? Not a lot of families have that amount of time and money available to do that. Especially this show, I think the types of people that it speaks to are not always the people that have a family life together enough to be able to pull something off like that, to have a New York vacation to see a show.
So, in particular, this show feels like it needs to be brought to the country in a way that makes it more accessible.
Shoshana: Well said, I think that’s a true and fair point. Were you a fan of the books or Greek Mythology before joining the cast?
Chris: I played this game growing up called, “Age of Mythology.” It was a computer game and that’s how I got into Greek Mythology in a similar way that the books got so many people into Greek Mythology. It’s fun and modern and exciting. It’s a computer game where you’re building this city and you would have battles and train Pegasi. It was all the Greek Mythology characters built into this video game.
That’s how I learned about mythology, was playing that weird computer game growing up, but I wasn’t a huge reader growing up, so I didn’t read the novels until after I was cast.
Shoshana: I think that’s fair. I’m definitely a huge Greek Mythology nerd, so I appreciate that. Right now it feels like between The Lightning Thief, Hadestown and The Public’s summer production of Hercules, do you think this is a specific time you think Greek Mythology is getting a reincarnation?
Chris: That is a good question. I think Greek Mythology, the reason that was created and it hits so deeply is it hits deep down patterns of the human psyche that keep emerging and hiding and then re-emerging. But, with our show in particular, it’s the concept that is built into Greek Mythology: the Gods, these people you’re supposed to look up to and have it all figured out, are kind of messes, in a way. The more you learn about them, the more you’re like, they barely have any of their stuff together. Especially with our show, it’s the concept of the younger generation realizing that the changes that they want to see in the world, and the world they want to live in - no one’s going to do it for them. No one is going to pass down a world with a bow on it. So in our show, it’s looking at the world around us and taking that responsibility and not having a ton of role models up there. Realizing that the ideas and norms you want to live in, the only person that is going to make that happen, is you. I think that theme in Greek Mythology is very clear and a huge point in our show that we hit on.
Shoshana: Very well said.
I’m sure you get asked this all the time, but if you could be a Greek God, or the son of one, who would you choose?
Chris: I think I would be the son of Zeus, honestly. Since I was a little kid, I loved wind and weather. So, the idea of having the power of lightning and being up in the sky, I love that. I’ve always been fascinated b the sky. When I was younger, I would fly kites. I would get so into it that I would go to the store and buy fishing line and I would tie roles and roles of fishing line together. I would be flying these kites in my backyard that were *literally* miles into the sky and it would take me hours to reel them back in because I would spend all day seeing how high I could get them. So, I was always really into weather systems and seeing how high I could get kites, so I think I would be the son of Zeus.
Shoshana: I think that might be my new favorite fun fact about you.
Chris: [laughing] You’re getting a lot of new facts that I haven’t thought of until this interview. I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone about “The Age of Mythology,” that computer game I grew up playing and I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone about the kite fascination growing up.
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about this amazing connection between The Lightning Thief and Be More Chill. Now both in New York, what’s that connection like?
Chris: We have the same writer, the same director and George Salazar, he originated the Grover track and he plays Michael in Be More Chill, so he’s a main role in each one. It’s crazy when we started Lighting Thief back when the Be More Chill online phenomenon was kinda happening, like during rehearsals for that. Back then, it was this weird show they did in New Jersey, at Two River Theater, so that was gaining popularity while that show was already gaining popularity. It was just this tidal wave of a time. I was so confused by it, so it’s been so fun to be on that process with them in a way being so close to George and our director, Stephen Brackett, but I think the magic of it is really tied to our director and writer, Joe Tracz. Joe Tracz, just has this sense of modern language that when you’re watching this show, it truly doesn’t feel that different than normal life, so you feel like you’re truly seeing these modern young characters having a normal conversation, even if it’s about the most insane stuff in our show. I think Stephen Brackett just has a really good sense of casting, not talking about myself [laughing] he knows how to bring in this young energy that really clicks in a very individual way, but combine to make these shows feel very genuine and different than anything else happening.
The magic sauce lies between that Joe Tracz book writing and that Stephen Brackett casting, that when you get it together, there’s just something about the shows that people see or watch or hear it you go, “This reminds me of myself, I can see myself in this world.” It makes the fandom get really excited and passionate about the shows very quickly.
It’s been so much fun to see Be More Chill blow up, so much fun to see these people that we’ve worked so closely with get recognized in this huge way.
Shoshana: Definitely exciting all around and I’m super excited to see the show on Thursday. Is there anything else you want to make sure the fans hear directly from you?
Chris: We’re so excited to bring this show back to New York. When we got the schedule of the tour, the idea of us coming back to New York and playing at the Beacon was one of the most exciting parts that we learned when we were doing the tour. The cast is so excited to bring it back. The show has a New York energy about it, Percy Jackson is from New York City and is on a quest to LA, it feels like what this tour is. We’ve gone on this quest across the country and now we’re returning home to camp in a way. We are very excited and we’re going to try to blast the roof off that place, so get to the Beacon! It’s only one weekend and the cast is gearing up and we’re going all out, that’s for sure.
Shoshana: Thank you so much, rest up and I can’t wait to see y’all on Thursday!
Chris: We can’t wait either and thank you very much! Have a great day.
Kristin Stokes (Annabeth Chase)
Shoshana: A lot of my friends have been talking about how excited they are to see The Lightning Thief!
Kristin: That’s so wonderful.
Shoshana: You’ve been on this journey from the beginning, what’s it like to be back on tour?
Kristin: It has been a journey. We joke on the show that Annabeth has this line, “Five long years stuck at camp” and that’s the exact amount of time I’ve been working on this show now. I wouldn’t say I’ve been stuck at camp, I’ve been very gracious and excited to see how this journey has unfolded.
When we started, it was December of 2013 when we did the first two week workshop. It was Stephen Brackett, our director, we were in a room figuring out, “how do you make a Minotaur? Kristin, maybe you get on somebody’s shoulders and then you’re tall.” No, that was ridiculous. It was really us experimenting and finding what has become the tone of the show and us making things on the spot and there’s just literally no way we can do a movie CGI of this, unless you have that beautiful Disney budget and even then I still feel like it’s going to let people down.
You’re never going to be what people have in their minds when they read a book, so to us, we’re not going to even try that. We’re going to show all the scenes. The first two weeks were starting that process and it’s just been so much fun. It’s the show that just keeps on giving. As momentum has built, we’ve added new cast members. We went from a one-hour to a two-hour full Broadway musical, it’s been the most fun and surprising. I’m here for the ride and I’m so happy, I’m sticking with it.
Shoshana: We love that. You mentioned the new cast members and someone like George Salazar to Jorrel Javier, it’s an amazing combo. What has it been like to see that journey?
Kristin: It’s great. As you mentioned, since I’ve been with this since the beginning, I’ve seen so many people come in and out of the show. Some people stay and then they couldn’t make it to the last version, so then they’re out and then they come back in. You know, especially George to Jorrel, with everybody - Stephen Brackett has been so amazing letting every actor find his own version. I have never heard him say, “Actually, so and so did it like this, so you should do it like this.” Or “A choice that worked previously was done like this, so you should stick to doing Medusa like this character” especially because we have such a wide-range of characters. It’s a small cast, only seven people, so someone like Ryan Knowles to play I don’t even know, like 10 parts, we’ve seen it done a few different ways.
We let them find their own way into the story and it’s always hilarious, it’s always funnies than if we were to tell them. Especially someone like George Salar, who has made such an imprint, he was nominated for a Drama Desk, he’s on the cast album, I’m sure you’ll talk to Jorrel about this, Jorrel definitely listened to the cast album, but then you have to throw it out the window and find what’s Jorrel’s version of this?
Shoshana: Joe Tracz, Stephen Brackett and George Salazar… there’s a huge connection between your show and Be More Chill. Is that a show you’ll be able to see while you’re in New York? What’s that connection like?
Kristin: We kinda call it our sister show because we’re so connected to it. I actually did one of the first readings of Be More Chill. I got to sing, “Rich set a fire” the very first time, so I was Jenna Rollan in one of the very first readings.
Then when they took it to Two Rivers, we said, “let’s reimagine this role and this cast,” so we’re all very close to the Be More Then when they took it to Two Rivers, we said, “let’s reimagine this role and this cast.”
We’re all very close to the Be More Chill family and Joe Iconis is such a supporter of Rob Rockiki, they’re best buds and it’s like our sister show. It feels so cool to say they’re on Broadway and we’re touring, it feels a little bit like we’re conquering the world, it’s really cool.
Actually, Sarah Beth who plays Clarisse and I went to see Be More Chill when it was at the Signature. Oh my gosh, was that a year ago already? Hopefully we’ll be able to stop in while we’re in town.
If not, when we come back we’ll definitely see it - it will still be on Broadway. Great news about that.
Shoshana: I definitely think you are conquering the world, and the underworld.
I was watching the video of the Green Room 42 concert and I have to ask you about “The Littlest Minotaur.”
Kristin: [Laughing] You do it for the deep cuts, I really appreciate that!
Shoshana: My friend and I were talking about how great that song is and we’re glad that it exists. Can you talk about the background?
Kristin: It actually started from that two week workshop. I kind of hinted at. So, in order to find the Minotaur, Stephen was like, “Hey Kristin, what if you climb on Eric William Morris”, who is starring in King Kong, he was Luke in the original two week workshop. “Why don’t you climb on Eric’s shoulders and then we have someone else stand in front of Eric” and then I would kinda lean over.” Then they’re like, “Now be really scary.” We did this whole Minotaur fight with me on Eric’s shoulders and leaning on this other guy’s shoulders and it just wasn’t working. They were like, “Kristin, it just looks ridiculous with you up there.” Then I wore this hat, seriously, I was trying to make it work.
I was trying to be the scariest Minotaur possible, but then it would all be ruined when I got off of their shoulders and I would have this big hat on. They’d be like, wow, here’s this 5’3 little person getting off and they were like, “You just look like the littlest Minotaur” [pronounced wittlest Minotaur, laughing] like I got up on my big boy shoulders and was trying to scare this boy, Percy. So then Rob literally came back in rehearsal the next day and was like, “Hey I wrote this joke of a song called, “The Littlest Minotaur” and it was like me and Rob’s little song that we would sing throughout the mini-rehearsal processes. Then when we got to Green Room 42 he was like, “Hey, would you want to do “Littlest Minotaur?” I was like, I would love nothing more, it was really great and add on the background vocals and just share some of the silliness that is the rehearsal process of this show.
You can not get through a single hour rehearsing this show without dying laughing. It’s always the most fun.
Shoshana: Awesome, well I’m glad you’re having such a blast. Is there anything else you want to share with your fans who are looking to see you at the Beacon?
Kristin: Oh my gosh, I am so excited to share this at the Beacon, obviously: March 28th through the 31st. If they aren’t familiar with the show, absolutely check us out on Spotify. The whole album is up there, you can come and you can secretly sing along to some of the songs - not out loud - but secretly sing along. I’m just so pumped to bring this back to New York after travelling the country and getting to meet all the other fans that this book and this show has impacted. So, it feels like a victory lap to come back to the Beacon and it’s such a beautiful theatre.
Shoshana: Wonderful, thank you so much for taking the time, I know this is a crazy time for all of you. I’m looking forward to seeing you on Thursday.
Kristin: Awesome, I’m excited to meet you.
Jorrel Javier Grover Underwood and Mr. D (Dionysus)
Shoshana: I want to talk about your journey into The Lightning Thief and how you heard about it. What it’s like to now be on the first national tour.
Jorrel: I was actually a massive fan of the books. I read it all through middle school it’s actually how I got through middle school. I had been following the book here and there as a 13-year-old. Then I heard that Theatre Works had done a one hour musical, so I was trying to scrounge the Internet for any clues here and there. My friends, actually, my freshman year of college, ended up doing the one-hour Theatre Works production of The Lightning Thief, so I was really ecstatic to find out that it was still alive. That the process of the show was still going on because obviously as a massive fan, it was definitely a show I wanted to get involved with.
Fast forward four years, I graduate from college and my agents get me this audition for the first national tour. The year prior, I had known they had just done a very successful New York run, that they had produced an album.
I had scrounged the Internet for every bit and shrapnel of the album, ended up buying it for myself and fell in love with the musical. So, when I got the audition, I knew for sure this was a production I wanted to get involved with and believe the audition went well. I got the offer so it’s been kind of a dream ever since.
Shoshana: That’s awesome, speaking of your college days, I saw the video you posted of your walk down when you were getting your diploma, well done.
Jorrel: Oh my gosh [laughing]
Shoshana: You’re playing Grover Underwood and Mr. D, two very unique roles. What’s your process been like?
Jorrel: Because I had read the series prior to ever being involved in the show, it was definitely a little bit easier for me. Simply because I had this arsenal of knowledge of who Grover is, who Mr. D is, I know what the roles they play in the show. I know the roles they played in the novel series and the source material, which is the first book. I have all of this knowledge, I just have to figure out how Grover and Mr. D lives in me. As an actor, I’m a very physical person. I like to get into my characters physically, and I feel like if I find their physicality and the vocal quality that each character has, it’s like my gateway into figuring out how that character lives in my body.
For me, the number one step was figure out how they walk and how they talk. Then how they act in relationship to all everyone else on stage.